Musical breakfasts and a walk with the band
U 8.470-1: Halffed enthusiasts. Penny roll and a walk with the band.
Don Gifford finds an explanation for Joyce’s sentence in the history of the Salvation Army:
And yet it is surprising that this slogan (if that is what it is) does not appear in other literary or newspaper text. There is no doubt that the Salvation Army was associated with the provision of food and shelter at a premium for those living on the streets, but perhaps not in the form cited by Joyce. Historian Paul White discusses the introduction of just such a scheme by the Salvation Army in London in 1888:
What was available to the working man of Dublin for his breakfast was, however, the subject of black humour in the days of the famines. At a union meeting of stucco plasterers in Dublin in 1841:1
Breakfast for the unemployed stucco-plasterer would consist of nothing more that air and music, listening to the band of the Royal Fusiliers (or that of another regiment) as they relieved the guard at eleven o’clock in the morning in Dublin Castle yard.
In 1859, the unwholesome “Irishman’s breakfast” was traditionally said to be “a glass of water and a walk with the band”, again possibly in allusion to the changing of the guard at Dublin Castle. Similar expressions are not found outside an Irish context:
That the saying was becoming proverbial is evidenced by later documentation:
Charles Du Val must have encountered an Irish volunteer in his With a Show through Southern Africa, published in 1884. The “musical breakfast”, once the preserve of the socially advantaged in the early nineteenth century, sums up the poverty of the Irish in contrast to the empire show of the British:2
The formula is proverbial, and comparable with the weather-lore saying about “an Englishman’s summer: three fine days and a thunderstorm”. But in Joyce’s case the expression reminds the early twentieth-century reader – by way of a phrase then passing out of use - of the difficulties experienced in the mid nineteenth century by the Irish under a regime symbolised by the Anglo-Irish of Dublin Castle and the British regimental bands, and the bread and water which came to represent a staple diet for the poor of Dublin in those days.
view of the “Musical Breakfast”, from an illustration in Dicken’s
Joyce's Allusions >